Communing with Cascadia

Ozette Island from Cape Alava

We don’t have any road trips on the schedule this fall, but October is often a good time to take a break from choring to enjoy Cascadian scenery up close & personal. One of our favorite places to visit is the Ozette Village site and surrounding areas. So much bang for your travel buck – isolated rocky beaches, old growth rainforest, archaeology, and a chance to stand in the place where Makah people watched a tsunami overtake their village following the last known rupture of the Cascadia subduction fault over 300 years ago.

Cape Flattery
Cape Flattery

We shared some history and our experiences there on a site about sacred places in the new world –


Makah village c.1900

On January 26, 1700 a +9 magnitude earthquake ocurred on the Cascadia Subduction Zone, resulting in a tsunami recorded across the Pacific Ocean in Japan, and a catastrophic mudslide that buried six longhouses of the Makah village at Ozette, WA. In 1970, severe storms uncovered these longhouses and spurred an emergency recovery effort. The archaeological record shows that this site was inhabited continuously from 400 BCE to the 1920s, when residents were moved to Neah Bay to facilitate schooling opportunities. The Makah Tribe, who also held inland territory, obtained most of their food and resources from the sea. Economic mainstays were halibut, ling cod, shellfish, salmon and a variety of sea mammals (primarily grey whale, fur seal and hair seal). Spanish explorers in the 1790s introduced potatoes, as well as European diseases and religion.

Slavery was common among the tribes of the Pacific Northwest long before European contact. Among the Makah, slaves were captured in warfare, or sometimes they were purchased from other tribes who had acquired them by capture. In 1833. Hudson’s Bay Company bought shipwrecked Japanese sailors from the Makah hoping to use them to open up trading with the Japanese.


Many Northwest Native legends describe battles between Thunderbird and Whale:

Whale was a monster, killing other whales and depriving the Quileute tribe of meat and oil. Thunderbird, a benevolent supernatural being, saw from its home high in the mountains that the people were starving. It soared out over the coastal waters, then plunged into the ocean and seized Whale. A struggle ensued; the ocean receded and rose again. Many canoes were flung into trees and many people were killed. Thunderbird eventually succeeded in lifting Whale out of the ocean, carrying it high into the air and then dropping it. Then another great battle occurred on land. In light of modern seismic and archaeological findings, these legends seem to describe the massive earthquake and tsunami of 1700.

Ozette archaeological site in the 1970’s

Aiornis, the prehistoric giant bird on which the Thunderbird mythology seems to be partly based, was a carrion feeder known from fossils found near Los Angeles. It is most likely that these birds, which were encountered by the first human settlers of the Americas, would feed on stranded whale carcasses.


Bone Hut interior

Being a native of the Pacific Northwest, exploring the rugged north Washington coast is a rite of passage. The pilgrimage to the Ozette village site involves a drive out to the Olympic Peninsula, a hike on a mossy tree-shadowed boardwalk, then a low-tide scramble up a rugged beach. Following the discovery of the 1700s slide-buried village, modern folk reconstructed a cedar-planked house looking out towards Cannonball Island and the Pacific Ocean. This hut is now a magnet for offerings of whale, seal and otter bones collected from the beach in front of the house. My last visit there, in 2011, still provided a seal rib and otter jaw bone that we brought back to our home altar, plus other bones left in the house as offerings to the local wights.

Bone Hut exterior

The terrain surrounding the Salish Sea very closely resembles that of our Scandinavian ancestors. Fjords, whales, seals, skraelings, raiding, trading, and even potlatches. Heathens travelling in the far reaches of the Pacific Northwest will be greatly rewarded by visiting the Makah Cultural and Research Center, hiking out to Cape Flattery to see Tatoosh Island and the sea stacks and caves at the northwestern-most point of the contiguous 48 states, then makng the trek to Ozette Lake and Cape Alava, where people lived and died to the rhythm of the sea for thousands of years. Explore the middens and tide strands, then find your own piece of bone to leave as an offering for the wights of this unique and majestic place.

Further reading

Native American groups of the Olympic Peninsula

Non-Indians and the Makah, 1788 to 1855

Native American legends of tsunamis in the Pacific Northwest

Searching for Native stories about Cascadia subduction zone earthquakes

Earthquakes and tsunami as elemants of environmental disturbance on the Northwest Coast of North America

The Home of My Family: Ozette, the Makahs, and Doc Daugherty


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